I let my guard down. Neal sailed through the last three days and I started to relax. And then it all hit.
The Mucositis developed just like they said. He started vomiting blood and I don't even want to talk about the other end. The sores are real bad in his mouth and he won't talk because it hurts too much. He's puffy from the steroids and they started giving all his medication through his IV. He can't keep anything down.
On top of all that his oxygen levels went down so they put him on oxygen. CT scan showed his lungs are clear so they think the water he's retaining is affecting his lungs. So they gave him more medicine to make him pee more which is frustrating because he doesn't have the strength to go to the bathroom.
He just lays there so quiet and still. Two things Neal never was and it's hard to see him like this.
They just finished giving him blood...and still no white cells. We need those to start fighting everything else.
They say he's doing ok and all this is normal. To them maybe. To me, it's scary and I'm worried.
If you get a chance, can you pick him up some more pajamas and underwear? A size bigger should be fine.
If anything comes up I'll call you. Otherwise, it's status quo, whatever that means.
Peter closed the computer and glanced towards the bed. Neal was up and in the same position he had been for the past hour, mostly on his stomach with his face partially buried in the pillow and his arms folded tightly across his middle. His eyes were open but unfocused and he didn't seem to notice when Peter neared him.
"Neal, we need to put the medicine on your lips." He pointed to a tube on the night stand. Peter put a glove on and squeezed a glob of the ointment on his finger. "This might sting a little." The sores were open and bleeding and the second Peter touched him, Neal winced and shrank away.
"Easy buddy. I know it hurts, but this will keep them from getting infected." Peter used his free hand to hold Neal steady and quickly applied the medicine. "Just a little on the inside..." Neal hissed and batted Peter's hand away.
"Sorry. I'm almost done." Peter finished and took the glove off, tossing it in the garbage. "You did good" he soothed as he noticed tears streaking down Neal's face.
Peter took a tissue and gently wiped away the tears, already dreading having to do this again. He lowered himself to the chair and eye level to Neal.
"Wish I could do something to help you." As he talked, Peter ghosted his hand down Neal's cheek, avoiding the tube attached to his nose. "Neal, you can use the morphine. Now is not the time to be a martyr." Neal had been holding the button all morning but hadn't used it, even though it was obvious he was in pain.
The silence was deafening. With Neal's refusal to talk Peter had been monopolizing the conversation all morning and he had run out of things to say.
"Neal, can I turn the TV on?" He grabbed the ex-con's hand. "Squeeze one for yes and two for no." Two light squeezes followed.
Inwardly Peter sighed. Neal wanted quiet but Peter was stir crazy and it was only day 4. As his eyes wandered the small room, he worried that he wasn't going to be the person that Neal needed. He could handle the bodily functions Neal needed help with and he could give Neal his medication but he wasn't sure he could be that shoulder if Neal needed one.
More importantly he wasn't sure if Neal wanted that from him. In the short time they had been cooped up together Peter had begun to understand small things about his partner.
He did not want to be alone. Several times Peter had tried to go to the apartment to take a shower and Neal had stopped him. The worse he felt the more adamant he was that Peter stayed.
He wasn't a hand holder; Peter would take his hand when he thought Neal wanted the comfort but inevitably Neal would pull away. But if he was in pain he would latch on to Peter's wrist and not let go.
Except for a few tears here and there Neal didn't cry. He winced and he groaned in pain but for the most part, he kept his emotions at bay.
And he was quiet. And this unnerved Peter the most. The Neal he knew, his partner of two years, was not quiet. This version could stare into space for hours at a time without a word. Peter wished he knew what was going on in Neal's mind.
He glanced down as Neal grabbed his wrist. "Neal, push the button or I will." He started quietly counting to ten and when he hit five he saw Neal release the morphine.
"Good choice" Peter whispered and it only took a few minutes before the medicine took effect and Neal visibly relaxed.
"Neal, close your eyes. Get some rest before PT gets here." Neal didn't need the encouragement and it wasn't long before he was sleeping.
Peter took the opportunity to turn the TV on.
It's nearly midnight and day 5 is about to start. Nothing significant has changed with Neal but he is running a low grade fever. They say this is a good sign. I guess a fever is normal when the white cells start growing so maybe they'll count something in the morning.
I would love to see you tomorrow but I doubt Neal will allow you to visit. I will ask him but don't expect much. Right now he isn't our Neal. Can you believe I miss the Caffrey charm? And never repeat that because I will deny saying it.
Neal is sleeping so I'm going to try to also.
Peter smiled as he saw Elizabeth enter the cafeteria. He raced to her.
"Hey hon" he whispered before kissing her.
"How's Neal?" she asked with her arms still tight around Peter.
"A little better today" Peter answered, unwilling to let her go.
"Can I see him?"
"No." Peter shook his head as he guided Elizabeth towards the line. They both ordered a coffee and muffin and quickly found an unoccupied table.
"El I'm sorry. He only agreed to me leaving because he knew you bought bigger pants for him." He motioned to the bag on the floor.
"I can't imagine Neal...fat" she hesitated before saying that word.
"Not fat" Peter corrected. "Puffy, bloated. It's all because of the steroids and everything else they're pumping into him." He shrugged. "It's temporary and then I'll be fighting to get him to eat. El he's already lost his muscle tone and he's so weak. It takes two of them to help him walk a couple of steps."
Elizabeth picked at her muffin before popping a small piece in her mouth. Eyeing her husband she took in his general condition; the dark circles under his eyes and the obvious weight lost.
"Neal's not the only one changing right now. Peter, you need to take care of yourself."
"I'm trying" Peter admitted as he stuffed the muffin down. "It's so hard because Neal doesn't want me out of his sight and it's hard to eat in there when he's so sick."
"Peter. Find the time. You have no choice. You're no good to him if you get sick." Elizabeth wasn't hungry so she placed the rest of her muffin in Peter's plate and watched him devour it. She got up and returned a few minutes later with an egg sandwich and placed it in front of her husband.
"I'm guessing this is more food than you've had in days."
Peter didn't deny that as he took a bite of the sandwich, savoring the taste.
He finished the sandwich and glanced at his watch. "I should go. This is the most I've been away since the transplant." He started to stand but Elizabeth grabbed his arm. "Sit. And that's an order. They have your number and they'll call if Neal needs you." Slowly Peter sat with a small sigh.
"El, this is so hard." He looked away, closing his eyes in the process. She took his hand and squeezed gently, watching as her husband fought to regain his composure.
"Do you want to take a walk? Get some flesh air."
He nodded, unwilling to trust his voice. Elizabeth grabbed the package and Peter's hand and together they left the hospital.
An hour later Peter returned, feeling better than he had in days, though a bit guilty also.
"Neal, I have clothes. Do you want to get dress?" He held up the bag.
"Yeah" Neal's voice was low but at least he was talking. He hated the hospital gown he was wearing but everything else was too tight.
"Underwear" Peter said as he took out two packages. Pajamas and look at this t-shirt." He held it up smiling. Kiss me I'm beautiful it said in bold, blue lettering. "Gotta love my wife" he said as he neared the bed. "You know the drill." Peter pushed the two poles away and carefully helped Neal to a seated position, trying to tune out the moans that escaped from his partner.
In this surreal world that wasn't part of the CI handbook; Peter dressed his partner as much as he was able. A quick push of the nurse's button brought help and Neal was unhooked long enough to get the t-shirt over his head and down his extended stomach.
"Feel ok?" Peter asked once they were alone.
"I saw your doctor in the hallway and your white count is at .2."
That didn't seem to register with Neal.
"It's a start" Peter explained. "Once the rest start rising, maybe we can get out of this room."
Neal remained stoic; unable or unwilling to think that far in the future.
"Can you sit in the chair for awhile?"
Neal thought that over and then nodded. Peter left and returned a few minutes later with help. He stood to the side as the two orderlies carefully moved Neal to the chair, with the ex-con helping as much as he could.
Peter settled on the arm of the chair and placed a cap on Neal's head. "Keeps the warmth in" he mused, before resting his hand on Neal's shoulder.
Neal reached for the remote and handed it to Peter. "Your choice" he whispered before leaning over and resting his head against Peter.
Peter smiled. Neal was talking and he got to watch TV. Maybe things were beginning to look up.